HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE QUEENS VILLAGE REPUBLICAN CLUB, INC. FROM 1875 TO 1940
In the early days, Queens (1), as the locality was then called, was in the township of Jamaica and all of the voting took place at the Town Hall in Jamaica. In those times, the section consisted, mainly, of large farms and from the sparse population it was extremely difficult to build up an impressive membership.
But what the Queens Village Republican Club lacked in numbers it compensated for in spirit. The “old timers” relate the part taken by the Club during the campaign in 1880 in which Garfield, Republican, opposed Hancock, Democrat, for the Presidency. Nicholas Hallock had presented the Club with a cannon, a relic of the Civil War (2). A uniformed brigade was formed consisting of some 90 men who paraded through all the nearby communities including Woodhaven, Jamaica, Garden City and Hempstead (3).
With white shirts, on which the candidate’s initials were embroidered in red, blue trousers and marksman’s hats and flowing white capes the brigade was the highlight of the local campaign and the envy of the opposition as it marched along with the cannon, mounted on wheels and fired, now and then, to stir up enthusiasm. So great was the popular interest around by the brigade that in 1884 it took a leading part in the campaign in which Blaine, Republican and Cleveland, Democrat, contended for the Presidency.
The Club, as a Republican group, had been, previously, organized in 1875. It held its meetings at Inglewood Hall over the Kelsey Store which was formerly located on what is now the southwest corner of Jamaica Avenue and Springfield Boulevard. (4) This spot was a central meeting place for all the local farmers. Here their produce would be weighed on the route to market. Later, meetings were held in the fire house of Queens Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 Volunteers. This fire house was also used as the first polling place, in Queens Village and later, after the world war, became the American Legion Post headquarters. The site of the fire house is included in the area converted into a park plaza on the south side of the railroad station. (5) Thereafter, the real estate office building of Wheeler Brothers on what is now the northwest corner of Jamaica Avenue and 217th Street and later, the former Post Office building opposite the old railroad station became the meeting places.
During this time, many persons of note and candidates visited the Club at campaign rallies among them being Job. E. Hedges, candidate for Governor in 1912, John Purroy Mitchell, nominee for Mayor in 1913, (6) William M. Calder in his race for the Senatorship and later, James W. Wadsworth, nominee for the same office in 1920.
During the period between April 11, 1924 and January 8, 1931, the Club had its headquarters in the Kissam Building at 97-01 Springfield Boulevard. (7) This was a period a great activity and expansion for the Club and its reputation as a strong, well-informed Republican body was widely recognized. Among the famous visitors at the Club during that time were Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Ogden L. Mills, Albert M. Ottinger, the candidates for Governor respectively in 1924, 1926, and 1928, Mr. L. E. Waterman, nominee for the Mayoralty in 1925 and Mr. Robert L. Bacon, who stood for election as a member of the House of Representatives at Washington in 1926 and was returned to that body for six successive terms and who, during his incumbency, frequently appeared at the Club and gained its utmost confidence and the wholehearted support of the membership by reason of his friendliness toward the Club.
On December 10, 1934, the Club was duly incorporated under the Membership Corporation Law of the State of New York with all the attendant ceremony.
The Club, later, moved to 96-48 Springfield Boulevard, known as the Dr. Ross Mansion until March 15, 1936 when the home of the once famous Queens Club at 215-22 Jamaica Avenue, became the Club quarters.
An account of events in the life of the Club, up to this time, would be incomplete without a roll-call of the Presidents of the club down to the present day. Among them were such men as:
Judge Isaac C. Kellogg, Nicholas Hallock, William L. Wood, Judge Alfred Bokee, Oscar Denton, Edward Raynor, Woodbridge Demarest, George Denton, J. Maynard Kissam, W. A. Kissam, Dr. Charles H. Miller, Charles E. Husson, Wilmot Y. Hallock, Henry Stein, Judge Robert A. Inch, Fred D. Wood, Edward P. Burwell, Lorenzo D. Brown, A. H. Witschieben, George Olsen, Maurice L. Egan, Philip E. Bantel, Arthur Brandoff, Henry Holst, Fred W. Preller.
On May 16, 1939, the Club moved into its first true home. With funds raised among friends and members, the two-story building at 218-85 Hempstead Avenue, now occupied by it, was purchased by the Club. It stands, a monument to all who have labored in the past to bring the Club to its present high estate, an exemplification of what can be accomplished by public-spirited men united in service and purpose and an inspiration, for the future, to those who would carry on for the Club in the true, progressive Republican tradition.
1. The name “Queens was adopted in 1856, but the older name “Brushville” lingered on into the 1870s and 80s. It is reported that the Club was originally named after the numbered Ward that the Club was located in within the Town of Jamaica. Because of confusion between the County of Queens and the community of Queens, the word “Village” was added in 1924 after a vote of the local citizens.
2. It is not currently known what became of this cannon.
3. It wasn’t until 1899 that the present day Nassau County was created, hence it is not strange that the Club would have strayed east into Garden City and Hempstead. Queens County then extended all the way east to Suffolk County.
4. This spot is now the Veteran’s Memorial Plaza park maintained by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
5. It is believed that this is not a misprint. The parking lot on the south side of the railroad had long been claimed by the late local historian Thomas F. Schweitzer to actually be mapped park land. Why it is paved and used by a private entrepreneur instead of being a public greensward has long been a mystery.
6. Mitchell was elected and served as Mayor from 1914-1917.
7. The Kissam Building later became the district office of State Assemblyman John A. Esposito, who was elected to office from the Queens Village Republican Club in 1965, taking office in 1966. It currently houses the district offices of State Assembly Member Barabara Clark, a Democrat. This building has had a long career and once housed a public library.
REPRINTED FROM THE 1940 CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS
WITH FOOTNOTES ADDED BY JAMES A. TRENT FOR THE EDIFICATION OF TODAY’S READERS
SOME NOTES ABOUT THE CLUB TODAY BY JAMES A. TRENT, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The above historical vignette ends at 1940. The Club continued to enjoy strength and a large membership into the 1950s. In the 1960s there were other Republican Clubs in the Assembly District (then the 9th) attesting to the fact that Republican sentiment was so strong that there were enough Republicans to share with other clubs. These included the Hillside Republican Club founded in 1928 operating largely from a membership in Cambria Heights; the Midland Republican Club founded by Frederick M. Reuss, Jr. in 1965 in Hollis but which had members throughout Hollis, Queens Village, and Bellerose. There was also the Young Republican Club of Queens Village which met at the Hempstead Avenue Clubhouse. Membership in this Club was restricted to those under 40 years of age.
The Club continued to elect members to high office such as: Assemblymen Fred W. Preller, Joseph J. Kunzeman (later a State Supreme Court Judge), John A. Esposito; Judge William Groat, and State Senator Frank Padavan. Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed Robert J. Malito, a Club member, as his Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Events. Malito went on to form a partnership with Sid Davidoff. This lobby firm of Davidoff and Malito is still to this day one of the most powerful firms of its kind influencing City Hall and politics.
The Club is still being visited by important people and candidates. Alfonse D’Amato, in his quest for U.S. Senate, visited the Club when he was still Hempstead Town Supervisor. Mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani visited the Club at a special meeting in 1993, and mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg at a special meeting in 2001. Each of these men went to get elected and become highly recognized and accomplished.
However, demographic changes began to occur in the southern part of the district in the 1960s that eroded our membership. A new black middle class began moving into Cambria Heights, Laurelton, St. Albans, and Hollis that was almost solidly Democratic in enrollment. Eventually, even Queens Village was affected by these ethnic changes. Soon, the Club was unable to maintain a sufficient membership to carry the costs of our headquarters. In 1982, the Clubhouse on Hempstead Avenue was sold and the proceeds of the sale put into savings. The Board of Trustees, originally charged with the responsibility for maintaining the Club’s real property, now was responsible for properly investing the proceeds of the Clubhouse’s sale. Interest from these investments act as an endowment to subsidize the Club’s operating budget. Meetings were moved to St. Ann Post-Catholic War Veterans at 237-20 92nd Road, off Braddock Avenue.
Still, hard times continued to pound away. As a result of the 1980 census redistricting, the Club’s catchment area was cut into three Assembly Districts, thus making it difficult to draw a cohesive membership. By the late 1980s, the Club stopped even holding meetings, because attendance reportedly had gone down to about four. However, times were changing again. Active Republicans in the area did not want to see the demise of America’s oldest Republican Club, and efforts were brought to bear to restart the meetings. With redistricting as a result of the 1990 census, the greater Queens Village community had been reunited within the 33rd Assembly District. Finally, in the early 1990s, the meetings were again called by the President, Dolores Grant of Queens Village. Soon after, a committee was formed to revise the Constitution and call for new elections. Douglas J. Brigandi of Bayside was elected; followed by Richard Cannon of Bellerose Manor, who also became a candidate for Assembly in the 33rd A.D.; followed again by Harvey Moder, and Kathleen Jones, both of Queens Village, and currently by Philip T. Sica of Bellerose Manor, who also ran for City Council and State Assembly. Currently our club president is Philip Orenstein of Queens Village.
To further strengthen the revived Club, it was agreed that the Nelson A. Rockefeller Republican Club, presided over by Morris Lee of Cambria Heights and meeting at the Incarnation School on Francis Lewis Boulevard; and the Midland Republican Club, presided over by James A. Trent of Bellerose Manor and meeting at his home, should merge into the Queens Village Club, combining their memberships and treasuries. That brought the membership up to 70. Meetings were retained at Incarnation. In November, 1995, the Club moved its headquarters again to the St. Anne Post-Catholic War Veterans at 237-20 92nd Road. In 2008 the Club moved again to the Trattoria Lucia Restaurant at 247-63 Jericho Turnpike in Bellerose Manor (Queens.) Due to the Club’s growth in 2014, and with a regular meeting attendance of over 65, it outgrew the limited space at the restaurant. In June of that year the Club moved to a larger meeting hall which seats over 100 at the Knights of Columbus, St. Annes Council at 263-15 Union Tpke., Glen Oaks, NY.
Since the Club’s reactivation, two major mail campaigns were undertaken to increase membership. In February, 2000, an agreement was reached for the John Foster Dulles Republican Club, founded in 1944 and meeting in Fresh Meadows with David Pinzon of Floral Park presiding, to merge into the Queens Village Republican Club. These actions brought our membership up to 250. And due to wise investment decisions, the Club is one of the most financially sound GOP clubs in the City. In 2000, at the Club’s 125th anniversary Dinner at Antun’s, candidate Rick Lazio, running for U.S. Senate against former First Lady Hillary Clinton, was our principal speaker. Mr. Lazio wowed the audience of 115 which included many notable political leaders from throughout the region, not just Queens. Clearly, the Queens Village Club was back in its stride. Our audience was wowed again in 2004 with former Congressman John LeBoutillier, and in 2005 with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In 2008 we were graced at our Lincoln’s Day Dinner with the presence of George Marlin, once the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a prolific author and candidate for NYC mayor as keynote speaker, and in 2009, Lt. Col. Allen West was our keynoter as he kicked off his successful race for Congress in South Florida. In 2013, the controversial anti-Islamist firebrand Pam Geller spoke to an audience of 175. Today, we are seeing the first break in the monolithic allegiance that minorities and immigrants have shown to the Democrat Party. Our Club has been successful in attracting more and more of these people particularly, Haitians and (sub-continent) Indians. The 2015 Lincoln Dinner broke all records with some 250 people in attendance. It was the first dinner since they were revived around 1996 that we required a double width dining hall at Antun’s. That attendance fares favorably with an attendance of 61 in 1996. The 2016 dinner had 306 people in attendance. Lincoln Dinner records were broken again in March 2017 with over 320 persons in attendance. In 2018, our Lincoln Dinner broke more records with an attendance of 351. Roger Stone was the principal speaker. In 2019 Corey Lewandowski and David Bossi, co-authors of “Trumps Enemies” were principal speakers, along with Brandon Straka, the founder of the Walkaway Campaign. In 2020 we had to switch to a virtual format due to COVID-19 virus lockdowns. Steve Bannon was the keynote Speaker.
For a Club that was close to demise, we are excited that it was brought back from extinction and now enjoys power and prestige to a level that had not been seen in decades. We have revived the tradition of the Queens Village Club Lincoln Day Dinners that were once one of the most important yearly GOP functions in all of Queens County. Our mission is to continue to advance the basic Republican principles of maximum personal freedom and limited government. Doing that from the environment of a Club that traces its ancestry to almost the beginning of the national Republican Party itself gives us not only great pride but also an awesome sense of connectedness to the great leaders of the past raised up from our beloved Queens Village community who similarly fought to preserve the same ideals that we cherish today.